Preventing Drug Use among Refugee Families 

A makeshift refugee camp in Beqaa, Lebanon  
Photo: Adam Patterson Panos/ DFID 


Beqaa, Lebanon: Ruba, mother to 11-year old Malath, is a Syrian refugee living in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon. Her husband was killed while fleeing Syria. After witnessing her father's death at the hands of conflict, Malath became withdrawn, angry and quiet; often crying and blaming her mother for what had happened. Ruba started to feel a sense of helplessness, in that she no longer knew how to care for her daughter effectively, and because of this frustration, she often found herself shouting angrily at Malath, when all other efforts to elevate her mood failed. Ruba started to feel guilty and alone and developed a lack of confidence in her ability to care for Malath. Sensing this troubled situation, Malath's teachers advised Ruba and Malath to take part in a UNODC sponsored school- based evidence- based trauma recovery programme for families.

The programme called, Teaching Recovery Techniques + Parenting, is a five-week programme in which children are made to engage in trauma recovery and resilience training, and their caregivers are trained on family skills such as developing communication, bonding and improving inter- personal relationships. Following the five- week training, Ruba said that participating in this training had changed their lives. She said that after the training, she felt closer and more emotionally connected with her daughter. She also noticed a significant improvement in Malath's behaviour and mood. Together, they were able to develop a strategy to reach out to each other in times of need-whenever they are feeling particularly low and vulnerable, they now simply say 'charge me' with their arms wide open, to express their feelings and acknowledge that they need each other's support.

As conflicts continue to grip different parts of the world, the number of refugees may continue to rise, and so will their needs. Children who escape armed conflicts are especially at an increased risk of coping with mental health difficulties, and engagement in risky behaviours, including substance and drug use, violence and crime. In this context, assisting parents in supporting children, and enabling children to recover from psychological trauma can significantly increase children's resilience.

As indicated in Ruba's case, UNODC has recently started using its experience in piloting family skills programmes, in line with the International Standards on Drug Use prevention, to address the specific needs of refugee families. The programmes are targeted towards families with children aged between 7 and 14, and aim at improving parenting skills, child well-being and family mental health. More specifically, the pilot programme helps families who have been through conflict and displacement to manage stress, develop positive parenting strategies as well as improve communication and relationships among family members.

Evidence- based family- based prevention techniques have been shown to prevent violence towards, as well as among children and youth, thus contributing directly towards the achievement of SDG Target 16.1 on significantly reducing all forms of violence as well as Target 16.2 that focuses on endling all forms of violence against children. Further, by focusing on mental health and well- being of family members, these programmes enable progress on SDG Target 3.4. They also contribute SDG Target 3.5 by addressing risky behaviours that lead to substance abuse.